The very latest on the Orchestra

March 2015 Newsletter

Posted by MichaelRynn on March 10, 2015

Novosti - Newsletter No. 14


Singleton Convent - A hot Concert

The Russian folk music played by the SBO usually conjures up images of cold weather; troika sleighs travelling through icy landscapes, frozen lakes and forests with temperatures plunging lower than -20C degrees.

So on 26th of October last year, the SBO members anxiously thumbed through the weather Apps on their iPhones, as the air conditioned bus headed into the Hunter Valley. Our destination was the Convent of the Sisters of Mercy in Singleton, and hot weather was forecast.

On arrival, Jan Fallding the organiser, said “Please make sure you shut all doors behind you, the Convent is nice and cool inside. We want to keep it that way for as long as possible.”

Our concert was to be held in the chapel, with its marble floors & high ceilings. It was still cool inside. Just!

But on days like this doors must be left open. The audience has to queue,come in and sit down. The air cannot avoid flowing in. Put that together with body heat & fiery Russian music and it wasn’t long before the heat was literally ‘on’.


“When I was singing ‘Galloping Troika’, it was with difficulty that I could seriously imagine sleighs swishing across the icy steppes and horses hooves whipping up the snow. It just didn’t feel right,” said SBO tenor, and former Moscow resident; Vladimir Shvedov, with sweat pouring down his face.

“This bears no relationship to my up-bringing in Voronezh, not far from the Volga river when the temperature often plunges below -30C”, said domra player Tanya Jephtha

“I always knew these costumes were never designed for this climate”, said bass domra player Patrick O’Neill, as he thought of Northern Ireland and tried to read his music through fogged up glasses.

Others used more colourful language to describe the heat. When we got outside, we all saw why. It was 41C degrees, our hottest concert ever.


SBO Epping Club Concert 9th December 2014 Free concert

Just before Christmas, to say thank you to our many supporters, the SBO gave a free concert at the Epping Club to which many guests were invited including a number of VIPs. An unexpected group of guests was a TV crew from Harbin in Northern China, who the SBO caught up with during our Beijing concert tour earlier in the year. Harbin was almost a Russian colony in Northern China at the end of the 19th Century during the building of the railway. It is also where our musical director Victor Serghie was born. The SBO has already done a concert tour of Harbin. So if anyone was thinking that maybe Victor & this crew might be plotting a return visit by the SBO sometime in the next couple of years, they would be ‘on the money’!

Instrument Spotlight


Matt Morgan is one of our more talented domra players. He is also left-handed. So to find a left-handed domra in Russia, let alone Australia, required some left-of-field thinking.

The solution was to get one made specially for him. This would be an all-Australian domra made from all-Australian timbers. SBO Musical director, Victor Serghie found luthier (Dieter Hauptmann) in Adelaide who specialises in making Russian folk instruments so he put in an order; not only for a ‘lefty’ domra, but also an alto & bass domra for good measure. The tone of these instruments is excellent & it is with some pride that SBO audiences can now hear Aussie musicians playing Aussie-made Russian folk instruments.


Also, the SBO’s solo-guitarist Jacob Wielgosz is himself an excellent Luthier. Not only does he play the guitar brilliantly, but when the audience hears that he has made his own instrument, he usually draws even more applause. It is just possible that the SBO will now be able to get its instruments made even closer to home.

Balalaika Music and the Russian Imperial Family




Well, he started early! The photograph on left of 2 year old Alexei, Russia’s last Tsarevitch, shows him with a ‘piccolo’ domra on the deck of the Imperial Yacht ‘Standart’. In the background are a sailor & some naval cadets with balalaikas & an alto domra. The Royal yacht always travelled with a balalaika orchestra.

What is not commonly know is that the Tsarevitch Alexei, went on to become a proficient balalaika player himself.

Another interesting balalaika fact: again not generally known, is that he had a rival in the Imperial family. Some of the letters between his sisters reveal that the real balalaika virtuoso of the family was his sister, the musical Grand Duchess Anastasia (left photo).

The Russian folk instrument development was due in part to the great Russian cultural revival at the end of the 19th century when Russians looked back to their eastern roots. But it was also due to the energy & drive of one man; Vasily Vasilievich Andreyev.

Andreyev (bottom photo) dedicated his life & fortune to transforming these essentially crude Central Asian Turkic instruments, into modern playable instruments. His aim: to bring classical Russian folk music to an audience in a more accessible form. He arranged music for these instruments forming orchestras; hence their different sizes to cover the treble, alto, baritone & bass parts.

More importantly, he inspired the Russian Imperial family. Tsar Nicholas II quickly fell under the spell of Andreyev’s balalaikas & domras. Himself an ardent Russian nationalist, he helped fund Andreyev’s ultimate creation, the Great Russian Orchestra, that would take Russian folk music to the world.

With the Tsar’s sponsorship, the Great Russian Orchestra soon toured the west electrifying audiences in Britain, France, Europe & the USA. And it wasn’t long before another monarch fell under his spell. So impressed was King Edward VII of Great Britain, that an English ‘craze’ for Balalaikas developed.

Seven Balalaika schools were opened in London. Between 1911 & 1913, England imported over one and a half million Roubles worth of balalaikas (Exch: rate in 1913 - 1 Rouble = $62.40 US)! The Great Russian Orchestra became a wonderful ambassador for Russian culture to the western world until the outbreak of war.

So it is totally understandable that The Tsar’s very gifted children would themselves, become inspired to play these most Russian of instruments.